From John Stuart’s Carlton House Journals of 1824-25 we find some unexpected information about the Hudson’s Bay Company west of the Rocky Mountains, and the creation of the York Factory Express. This was not my goal when I started this blogpost. I was only going to tell you how Carlton House appeared to the men who were travelling out and in in the various York Factory Expresses.
For example: On his arrival at Carlton House in 1841, George Traill Allan described the fort as “a duplicate of Edmonton, upon a smaller scale.” The fort stood at a shallow ford on the North Saskatchewan River, where the rolling plains ended and the boreal forests began. It had been constructed at this place in 1810, and though once important as a fur trade post, its major role in the 1840s was as a provisioning post for the Saskatchewan Brigades and the York Factory Express.
But as I read this manuscript, titled “Fort Carlton in 1824-25,” I found things of interest to those of us who research the HBC fur trade west of the Rocky Mountains. The beginning of this paper tells us that Carlton House was situated at a place on the North Saskatchewan where the river emerges onto the prairies. Both fur trade companies built here, and their posts were built side by side with a shared palisade between them, for protection against the many First Nations tribes that lived here. The North West company post was on the west side of the combined forts and called La Montée, and the HBC post, on the east side of the shared palisade, was called Carlton House.
Chief Factor John Stuart was in charge of the post in 1825, after the HBC took over the NWC and the Canadien fort was closed. Alexander Ross described the then-Carlton House as having “a very unfavourable appearance… The palisades are neither straight nor strong,” and there was a fragile appearing bastion over the front gate from which he said “few would venture to fire a pistol.” So the fort was in pretty poor shape when John Stuart arrived there with the incoming Saskatchewan brigades in September 1825.
At this same time, Governor George Simpson was making plans to close down the North Saskatchewan River posts of Carlton House and Edmonton House, and change the river route to New Caledonia to the old North West Company route via the Athabasca River to Fort Assiniboine and Jasper’s House. As we know, John Rowand, of Edmonton House, travelled by the North Saskatchewan River route, and George Simpson by the river route through Ile-à-la-Crosse. Simpson’s plans are outlined in John Stuart’s 1824 journal of Carlton House:
Sept 14th Tuesday. Cloudy cold weather. In the morning Mr. [John] Rowand [of Edmonton House] with… five boats manned by forty two men, being the same complement that left York Factory, took their departure for Edmonton House. There are two others that will accompany the Boats for some distance and will afterwards proceed by land with letters to meet Governor Simpson at Athabasca River on his way to the Columbia. There has been no accounts from Edmonton during the Summer and as it is not known when the Indians, should they be on the river, will be troublesome, Mr. [Joseph] Rocque, the Stone Indian Interpreter, accompanies Mr. Rowand until the Brigade is passed [past] the Stone Indians…
Joseph Rocque was from Prairie du Chien, Quebec, and he is called the Stone Indian Interpreter because he was the only man in this part of the country who understood the language of the Stone Indians. He was by this time elderly, and though he had planned to proceed to Red River to join his family he had been sick over the summer, and John Stuart was glad to find him still at the post.
It is 1824, and John Rowand is racing Governor Simpson to Fort Assiniboine, on the Athabasca River, to discover which route is shorter and quicker for the Saskatchewan Brigade boats to travel. As we all know, Rowand beat Simpson to Fort Assiniboine and waited for him for a few days, before deciding that his work at Edmonton House was too important to be ignored. Simpson arrived at Fort Assiniboine sometime after Rowand had departed, and that is why the route for the Saskatchewan Brigades and the York Factory Express remained on the North Saskatchewan River. In the Carlton House journals, John Stuart tells us what actually happened:
17th Sunday [October]… A boat and six men arrived from Edmonton…The Boats got all safe to Edmonton on the 17th ultimo and Mr. Rowand, who by some days preceded them, proceeded direct to the Athabasca River in hopes of seeing Mr. [Duncan] Finlayson on his way to the Columbia…. [It seems that Finlayson travelled with Governor Simpson to the Columbia District.]
20th Wednesday [October]… Mr. Rowand got to the Athabasca River before Mr. Simpson or even Dr. [John] McLoughlin, who left York Factory before we did, and the Doctor not having yet arrived Mr. Rowand concluded that the Governor had come up with the Doctor and they both arrived safe at the Fort Assiniboine the 2nd inst. The water being so low in Beaver River is what detained Doctor McLoughlin so much. He had to make an entire Portage from nearly moon [Moose?] Portage to the Lac la Beech [Biche] and Mr. Simpson followed his track. They will now continue on together all the way to Fort George [Astoria].
So, Dr. John McLoughlin and Governor Simpson continued their journey to the Columbia together in 1824 — arriving at Fort George [Astoria], which was then the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company on the Pacific slopes, in Autumn. As stated above, they travelled to the Athabasca River via the Beaver River — which is the same river that John Work and Peter Skene Ogden travelled on in 1823. These two men had a little trouble with the Beaver River’s shallow water as well, if I remember correctly: http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/two-canoes-eight/
The other thing that I include with all these events is that Duncan Finlayson — who is also mentioned by John Stuart as heading to the Columbia — explored the Rocky Mountain portage [Yellowhead Pass] in preparation for it being used in 1826 by the incoming New Caledonia express. So when did he explore it? He is at Fort George in 1824, but he must have left the territory again in 1825. Interestingly, in 1826, James McMillan is the leader of the incoming express, and he is on his way to Fort Vancouver once again. Aemilius Simpson says this, of the Express’s arrival at the place where the New Caledonia men split off from the Columbia express-men:
This day has been occupied in making arrangements for our journey across the Portage & the separation of the brigades for the Columbia & New Caledonia, the latter pursue a route that has hitherto been passed by few. Report says it is a good one which leads them to the Head Waters of Fraser’s River.
Now, how did I know that James McMillan had explored the Yellowhead Pass to Fraser River? Bruce Watson says that McMillan travelled with Governor Simpson to Fort George [Astoria] in 1824, and later that year was a member of the party that explored Puget Sound and the lower reaches of the Fraser River, where Fort Langley was built in 1827. In his book Trading Beyond the Mountains, Richard Mackie says that after arriving at Fort George, Simpson “sent a party under James McMillan, who had accompanied him across the continent, to gain a knowledge of Fraser River and the adjacent country.” McMillan heard from the First Nations people that Fraser’s River “was a fine large bold stream and not barred by dangerous Rapids or falls,” all the way to Kamloops. That story (and story it was) encouraged Simpson to explore the river in 1828, when of course he realized it could never be used as a brigade route to and from the Pacific to the interior. All these stories are tied together, one way or another! But this information does not answer my question — when did McMillan explore Yellowhead Pass?
So I returned to the Carlton House journal for more information on these events. On the date, May 12th Thursday, 1825, John Stuart wrote in his journal:
About 7 am Laplante and Esperance arrived & delivered me a letter from Governor Simpson dated the 10th inst. He was then encamped at Battle River and the purport of his letters was to desire me to have a dozen or fourteen Horses with the necessary Saddles and Saddlebags in readiness, it being his intention to proceed direct across land to Red River, within an hour of his arrival here…Governor Simpson, Chief Factor [Alexander] Kennedy, and Chief Trader [James] McMillan arrived, and from the little conversation I have had with these Gentlemen I find that much improvement has been made in the Columbia. The establishment of Fort George at the Sea Coast has been abandoned and another formed at the Belvere point of Vancouver. That place, Fort George, I purchased from the Americans in 1813, but by the Treaty of Ghent the British Government again gave it to the Americans as if no purchase had taken place, and not only gave it up but, stranger to relate, sent a British ship of war to convey the American Commissioners to whom the establishment was to be delivered, and be a witness that the American Flag was substituted in lieu of that of Britain.
Yes, THAT John Stuart, just in case you hadn’t realized who we were talking about. This is the John Stuart who, with Simon Fraser, opened up New Caledonia and explored Fraser’s River to its mouth. The John Stuart who later came to the Columbia with his provisioning brigades, and who, with John George McTavish, purchased Fort Astoria from the American fur traders under Astor! Him >> http://nancymargueriteanderson.com/john-stuart/
His comments continue, here:
Hence, the course of its being now abandoned, Mr. Macmillan had in course of winter coasted all along to the entrance of Fraser’s River, which from its source I had explored in 1808, and it is now intended to form an establishment at its mouth, from which, in my opinion, and it is not a new Idea, much more benefit will be derived by the Company than ever could result from the Columbia. It is the most central place hitherto discovered on the North west side of the mountains, and from it Western Caledonia and the Columbia can be supplied with equal facility…
Governor Simpson, Chief Trader Macmillan, seven men… took their departure for Red River… In the evening after dark I in company with Mr. Rocque went to bring these three Horses to Mr. Simpson’s camp and we proceeded to the other end of Duck Lake and there found Dubois and Yartin… from whom we obtained information that Mr. Simpson was still behind, and of course that unperceived we must have passed his encamped. We then at daylight…
May 13 Friday. Returned back and an hour afterwards met Mr. Simpson and party with whom we continued to the South branch river [South Saskatchewan River] where we parted with them and returned here in the afternoon. In travelling along I got much valuable information regarding the west side of the mountains from Mr. Simpson, and I am not a little proud to find that the Ideas he entertains of the whole of that quarter altogether coincides with what I myself entertained since its first establishment, and if his views are now carried into execution the H.B.Coy may still be remunerated for the vast expenses incurred by the late NWCo in exploring and establishing that quarter. It is certainly a field from which much emolument might be derived.
So there are no answers here. How and when did James McMillan explore the Tete Jaune [Yellowhead] Pass? I finally found the source of this information, in “Lt. Aemilius Simpson’s Survey from York Factory to Fort Vancouver, 1826,” edited by William Barr and Larry Green.
McMillan, James (ca. 1783-1858) began as a clerk for the NWC around 1804, and his first assignment was to the Fort des Prairies department. He was associated with David Thompson on his first crossing of the Rocky Mountains in 1807, and most of his subsequent career was spent in the Columbia District. He became a Chief Trader in 1821 and accompanied Governor George Simpson on his first trip to the Pacific Coast in 1824. That autumn McMillan explored the mouth of the Fraser River. In 1825 he was placed in charge of Fort Assiniboine on the Athabasca River and instructed to search for a route from Jasper House to the headwaters of the Fraser River (Yellowhead Pass). ‘Mr. Macmillan…left Fort Assiniboine on Horse Back,’ the Minutes of Council records..’& there is not the least doubt but he will succeed: yes it is Men of his Stamp the Country wants, meaning no offence to any one…’ In 1827, the year he was appointed a Chief Factor, McMillan led a party to establish Fort Langley…
The rest we know. So all my questions are answered, and for you there may be more information of interest in this post journal. But you might ask, where did I find all this information on John Stuart and his journal? It’s on the internet. To find it, google “Fort Carlton in 1824-25,” or click the link below. http://rtparchivepress.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/carlton-house-journal-1824-25.pdf
Are you amazed? Soon we won’t have to go to archives ever again — everything we will want to know will be on the internet.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.
- John Greig
- John Charles